By Anna Howarth
Three Ways to Drive Alignment in your Strategic Plan
In the work that I do with our customers, people come to me with plans that are in all different states of execution readiness. While all the arduous work of strategic plan creation has been completed when plans come to me, as a Customer Success Manager, I look for one key ingredient that will truly ensure executional success – alignment. Does everything in your plan bring you closer to achieving your overall goals? The process of going through your plan with a ‘fine tooth alignment comb’ is an exercise that prevents plans from running the risk of executional failure.
Why is Alignment important?
Alignment ensures a strong connection among your organization’s high level strategic goals, and the projects and initiatives that support those goals. From an executive team, down to front line employees, the activities that everyone is working on should be moving the organization in the right direction – and the same direction. A strategic plan without proper alignment runs the risk of wasting resources and time and can jeopardize the success of key projects that support an organization’s mission.
As competing priorities continue to pile up, a well-aligned and visible strategic plan will help employees understand where to focus their attention, ultimately empowering employees to make their own decisions.
So, how do you test your plans for alignment? Here are three easy ways to check your plan for those gaps that could be holding you back from achieving your desired results.
1. Think Vertical!
Typically, a planning process might have initially taken place on multiple spreadsheets, white boards or post it notes, representing separate horizontal activities (e.g. Supply, Sales, Product, etc.). While it helps to see things all laid out from left to right while your team is still formulating, it is important to then represent your plan in a vertical, tree like view.
A hierarchical view will help you identify any missing initiatives that could end up sabotaging your strategic plan. This gap is known as “white space risk,” or where key projects or steps are missing.
A vertical view will also assist in ensuring a connection between all levels in your plan. You’ll be able to clearly understand not only how your top-level goals permeate down to your tactical items, but also how the results from those tactical items push you forward in achieving your organizational goals. This closed-loop process and clarity of alignment is critical in executional success.
2. Utilize Tags or Groups – #StrategicPlanning
If you’ve broken free from using Excel and other spreadsheets, tags or groups can provide valuable insight. Tagging creates filtering options that can help an organization understand if and how various projects are supporting larger goals.
Tags can be applied within a single plan, and more importantly they can span across multiple plans. As you develop yearly operational or departmental plans to support strategic plans, tags will help you segment your data.
For example, if you have 5 strategic themes and you need to answer the question, for example, “How are we doing within our theme of Customer Success?” tags will provide this type of increased visibility across multiple plans. Even the process of creating tags and categorizing initiatives is an important exercise – ensuring only critical and necessary items are part of your plans.
In addition, tags will help you understand if each project or initiative is driving the organization forward. If it’s unclear whether a project helps achieve results to drive the strategic plan forward, you can reevaluate your approach and readdress your resources to clearly align to your overarching goals.
3. View your Plans Holistically
Typically, plans cannot live in isolation. Therefore looking at your various plans side by side will bring to light any projects or initiatives that are a misplacement of resources and time.
As I mentioned earlier, viewing an individual plan vertically will help identify any white space risk within that plan. When viewing multiple plans together, this alignment comes in the form of viewing the plans in a horizontal manner. If, for example, you have a strategic plan, an operational plan, and a change management plan – can you view all three plans side by side and clearly say that each component is moving the needle in the same direction?
As you have a limited amount of resources, where you apply this energy matters. Extraneous activities can be eliminated by viewing all your plans holistically.
Productivity Increases Exponentially with Alignment
In increasing executional success, it’s not just about working hard; it’s about working on the right things.
If you think about Newton’s Second Law of Motion: F=ma (Force = Mass times Acceleration), Acceleration is produced when an unbalanced force acts on an object and the more force there is behind an object, the more acceleration increases.
This equation can also be applied to productivity. As your organization works to propel itself in a certain direction, any misapplied force will decrease the acceleration rate. Therefore, when aligned, the force your organization applies and the direction of that force will propel you towards your goal at a faster rate.
With the three steps above, you’ll be able to identify any areas within your plan that need to be removed, reevaluated, or realigned. Once you’ve ensured alignment within one plan and across multiple plans, they should be shared with all employees. “Shared” doesn’t mean “buried on the share drive never to be seen again.” We define “shared” as easily accessible and regularly accessed by contributors.
This visibility allows employees to understand that they are not doing ‘busy work’ but that they play an integral role in the organization’s success. This sense of ownership increases performance as employees are able to actively see how their accomplishments are impactful.
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